CHARLOTTE - Tight end Greg Olsen is the Panthers' Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Nominee for 2016. Olsen is one of 32 players, one from each NFL team, eligible to be selected for the only NFL award that recognizes a player for his community service as well as his excellence on the field. This is the second nomination for Olsen, who was also nominated for the award in 2015.
On the field, Olsen is one of the NFL's best tight ends. A four-time team captain and two-time Pro Bowler, he is just the seventh tight end in NFL history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (2014, 2015). Olsen, who has played in 154 consecutive regular season games, ranks in the top 10 all-time among NFL tight ends in receptions (603) and receiving yards (7,112), and he is approaching the top 10 in receiving touchdowns (52). This season, Olsen leads all NFL tight ends with 820 receiving yards.
It's no surprise that Olsen is a dependable, combative performer since his mom is also known for her tenacity and resolve. In 2009, after watching his mother tackle and survive breast cancer, Olsen founded Receptions for Research: The Greg Olsen Foundation. Greg's mission through the foundation is to ensure that everyone has a "second chance at life," just like his mother.
The foundation's Receiving Hope program focuses on cancer research, support and education programming. The program has distributed more than $520,000 to six hospitals and foundations since 2009, with funding generated by events chaired, planned, and executed entirely by Olsen. The program's most notable and largest fundraiser, Kicks for a Cure, has raised more than $850,000 in its eight-year history. The event, dubbed the "World's Largest Kickball Tournament," is held annually in Chicago.
In early 2013, Greg and his wife, Kara, created the HEARTest Yard Fund after a routine examination of their unborn son, T.J., revealed the infant had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a congenital defect marked by an underdeveloped left ventricle and aorta. The HEARTest Yard Fund, an umbrella program under the Receptions for Research Foundation, is a family service program administered in conjunction with Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte. The cutting-edge program provides families of babies affected by congenital heart disease with a multitude of services including in-home, private nursing care, physical therapy and speech therapy, all at no cost to the families or hospital. The program provides about $25,000 - $30,000 worth of nursing care (approximately 460 hours) per family during the first six months of the baby's life. Since its inception, the fund has distributed nearly $1.225 million in support.
"Greg has an incredible heart. I love the guy," said Olsen's teammate and 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year recipient Thomas Davis. "After everything he faced with his son's surgeries, he never turned his back on his team and never walked away from serving the community. He is an outstanding friend, father and teammate, and someone I truly admire."
Olsen's work to benefit those in need of a second chance goes far beyond Receptions for Research. In February 2013, he traveled to Raleigh, N.C., to lobby the House of Representatives for legislation that would require mandatory heart disease screening for newborns. The bill went in to effect in July 2014. Earlier this year, the Olsen's made a personal donation of $150,000 to Levine Children's Hospital to purchase new heart bypass pumps for the hospital. Greg was a driving force in creating the hospital's signature fundraising gala in 2014. He is a spokesperson for the NFL's A Crucial Catch program, is an active participant in the team's Make-A-Wish granting program and has lent his celebrity star power to assist Beds for Kids, a nonprofit organization that provides beds and other basic furniture to children and families in the Charlotte community.
"Greg's service is completely driven by love," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Love for his family, for his community, and all those around him. He is fully committed to all that he does – both on and off the field. He is a leader in the locker room, devoted husband and father, and selfless servant to the community."
In addition to their work with the hospital and local community, Greg and his wife host a variety of fundraisers throughout the year to benefit Receptions for Research. Efforts include an annual charity concert, speaking engagements, golf tournament, a 5K and a signature experience with NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt, Jr. All events are planned, coordinated and executed by Olsen and his team of volunteer board members. Since 2009, Receptions for Research has been granted more than $2.6 million in support, with 98 percent of that funding going directly to the organization's mission.
The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award presented by Nationwide recognizes an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field. The award, which was established in 1970 and renamed in 1999 after the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back, Walter Payton, is considered the league's most prestigious honor.
Three of the 32 nominees will be selected as finalists, and the winner will be announced in Houston at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on Feb. 4, 2017, the night before Super Bowl LI, from 8-10 p.m. (ET and PT) on FOX.
A total of $1 million will be donated in the name of the 2016 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, with $500,000 going to a charity of his choice and $500,000 supporting the expansion of Character Playbook across all NFL markets. The other two finalists will each receive a $125,000 donation to the charity of their choice and a $125,000 donation in their names to expand Character Playbook, and the additional 29 team winners will receive a $50,000 donation to their charity of choice and an additional $50,000 donation in their name to implement Character Playbook in their club market. Donations will be courtesy of the NFL Foundation, Nationwide and United Way Worldwide.
To further celebrate and encourage fan support of the 32 team Man of the Year nominees, Nationwide, the presenting sponsor of the Award, will host the second annual Charity Challenge. As part of the social media challenge, each nominee will have a unique hashtag, and fans will be encouraged to tweet using the player hashtags. The player hashtag that generates the most mentions will win an additional $25,000 donation to his charity of choice, courtesy of Nationwide.
To support Olsen in the Charity Challenge, use #OlsenWPMOYChallenge.
View photos of Greg Olsen as he partners with New Era to design a commemorative beanie for Levine Children's Hospital.